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Algerian censors block Bouteflika 'coma' reports

© Screen grab

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-21

Algerian authorities have censored two newspapers for printing information about President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s “declining” health. Bouteflika has not been seen since he was admitted to a Paris hospital late April.

For the first time in decades, two Algerian newspapers were censored and blocked from publication by the government on Saturday evening.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last seen on April 17. © AFP

The francophone daily "Mon journal" (My paper), and its Arabic affiliate "Djaridati" were planning on publishing two pages, including the front, on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s “declining” health, witht the claims that he had returned to Algeria and was in a “comatose” state.

The 76-year-old president was taken to the Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris for a “minor stroke” late April, and Algerians have not seen or heard from him since, leaving room for speculation.At the time, the stroke raised “no worries,” according to the premier’s office.

In early May, officials made a short statement saying his health was “seriously improving,” and rumours had him resting in Switzerland.

Silence and speculation

ABDELaziz Bouteflika and the Algerian economy

Bouteflika, in power since 1999, was expected to run for a fourth term in office next year. But speculation about his declining health has become a permanent feature in Algerian politics, not least because of the government’s sparing reports on the matter.

“According to my sources -- I personally did not see anything,  but I have my sources, which I cross-check and verify -- the president is in Algeria,” Hichem Aboud, head of both newspapers, told FRANCE 24.

“My sources say that he’s neither in Geneva, Switzerland, nor in the Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris. He is in Algeria. He arrived at dawn on Wednesday [May 15], after leaving Paris at 3am,” specified the former member of the military who now opposes the regime.

“His health is declining, which is why they transferred him to Algiers,” said Aboud. “The Val-de-Grâce hospital could no longer help. We’ve been told he’s in a deep coma that can go on for days or weeks. That is what we put in those two pages.”

“We refused self-censorship”

The head of “Mon journal” and "Djaridati" added that his sources were both “French medical teams and the Algerian president’s entourage.”

Aboud told the AFP that the two papers were held in the printing room on Saturday night. “The Communication ministry asked us to delete the two pages on president Bouteflika’s health entirely from the edition,” he said.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika's complex relationship with France

“We refused self-censorship,” he continued, explaining that it was “technically impossible to cut two pages out of the 24-page-long papers."

For Aboud, the authority’s attitude confirms the information they had on Bouteflika’s health.

If their claims were “entirely false, the best solution for the authorities would’ve been to publish a statement from the president’s doctors denying the claims,” he said, “or better yet -- show us images of Mr. Bouteflika.”

Bouteflika’s last appearance in public was on April 17, at the funeral of a highly-ranked official.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-19

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